Alexander tried to light a flower on fire once. His free-spirited aunt remarked with a wistful sigh that he was murdering flowers. If that were the case, Alexander reasoned, his sister Bella was committing murder every time she picked wildflowers and brought them home for their mom to put in a vase.
His parents were concerned, so they spoke with his teachers. His Science teacher said it was only an experiment. In Science, they were studying plant structures. This immediately followed the combustion unit. His English teacher said he was trying to analogize emotion. In English, they were studying metaphor. His Math teacher wondered if a formula could be applied, if the volume of a burnt flower shrinks.
But Alexander was simply testing the idea of lighting fire to beauty. Could beauty burn? If so, what kind of conflagration would arise?
The school principal referred Alexander to a therapist, who concluded that burning flowers was an exhibition of anger and prescribed an anti-depressant.
But nobody knew that Alexander really did it because of love. Lily, the girl that made his heart become hummingbird wings, passed him without notice, carrying an armful of flowers from Jacob Nellenbaker. Earlier that day, Jacob had made fun of Alexander, so when Lily dropped a handful of his flowers after school, Alexander snatched them up.
That night, Alexander placed the small bundle of purple flowers on his desk. He snatched the lighter his mother used to light candles with from the junk drawer. This was the same lighter his sister stole to sneak a cigarette, and the one his father used to burn a letter from his own father in the dark kitchen one night.
Alexander pulled his thumb over the metal ridge, and a flame in the shape of a teardrop struck the air. The warning label read: Keep Away From Children. But Alexander was twelve, preferring to be called Alex these days.
He selected a pansy with bleeding eyes. As the flame connected with the flower’s velvet flesh, the petal curled under the heat, retracting like a wave unfurling from the shore. It shriveled and blackened.
It was a slow burn, much slower than paper, much slower than the house he saw swallowed by flames on television.
The flame surged up the stem, turning it dark like the spread of ink. It wilted from the pressure of heat. He waited for a petal to ignite, to leap up and sweep across the face of the flower. But the flower took its time to burn.
He expected it to smell like childhood campfires, but it didn’t smell like much of anything at all.
The next day at school, Lily had a fresh set of flowers. In English class, the journal prompt on the chalkboard asked the students to write down something new they’d learned this week. Alexander remembered his flower-burning experiment, and wrote: Beauty takes a long time to destroy.
Brittany Michelson‘s short work can be found on: Flashquake, The Citron Review, and In the Know Traveler. She is an MFA student at Antioch University Los Angeles.